I Don't Care What Happens Next
on the spiritual state of the world, the implications and utility of love, the definition and methodology of enlightenment
According to Essence of the Upanishads, when we follow the lead of our sense organs, instead of using our righteous intentions to control them, they lead with abandon. They’ll let just about anything into our bodies and minds, our City of Eleven Gates, as long as it is not immediately (painful or obviously) unpleasant. When they open those eleven gates, ephemeral pleasure rushes in and vitality, in the form of prana, rushes out. When all the prana has escaped, we are left with a vacuum, a total dearth of vigor. We have fallen into a depression.
When we are depressed, we sometimes stay that way for a while. The world outside is full of transient pleasures but the emptiness is too strong; without prana, we cannot open our gates. We falter, unable to allow entry to anything enjoyable, feeling trapped. We may turn to drugs that force open our gates, allowing an indiscriminate influx of fleeting indulgences. But we still have no prana, still we do not feel fully alive.
The only way to restore our empty prana: slowly, arduously leading ourselves through the motions of empathy. We smile, we listen, we engage with those around us; we focus not on our experiences but on those of others. We do not enjoy these moments, unable to open our gates to whatever immediate satisfaction they may otherwise bring, but we slowly find that our prana is returning. Eventually, the void disappears and we are able to open our gates once more!
But there’s a reason your doctor touts the benefits of preventative medicine; it saves so much time and pain (and money)! Why get to the point of refilling this prana vacancy when we could instead simply keep our prana levels up? Well, the way is simple—simple, but not easy. If we only monitor our indulging, avoiding the prana-sucking traps that boast instant gratification at the expense of future depression, we can remain joyful indefinitely. We need only close the gates of our own accord before the prana runs dry. If we are deliberate in making well-intentioned choices—acts of service, wholesome thoughts, selfless actions, meditation—we can continue to bask in the joys these choices bring, and all the while experience them with a full tank of prana.
Sometimes I go months without writing a song. Sometimes I write so often and so prolifically, I can’t even remember all the songs I wrote. The older I get, the less often I seem to experience that latter, manic phase. Recently, I’ve been stuck in a bit of a block. It’s not so much like what I think of when I hear the phrase “writer’s block”; I don’t sit at my desk (keyboard) trying desperately to pen (finger) some poetic words (melody). It’s more like…apathy. I just am never inspired anymore. You see, the writing never truly came from me, from my mind. It sort of spilled through my mind and into the keys and out of my mouth. So, this variety of writer’s block is a little less like lack of creativity and a little more like the loss or dwindling of some incredibly beneficial but intrinsically unknowable connection to something beyond my self.
If that idea doesn’t bog you down too much, then maybe you know what I’m talking about. I believe—or would at least like to—that we all have experienced that (for lack of a better word) divine connection. Maybe you’ve felt it in your work; according to psychological science, that’s the most common place people tend to enjoy these so-called flow experiences. Maybe, like me, you’ve never been a big fan of work, and instead you find it in your art (whatever that may be to you). For me, it’s usually in my music. But, as I explained, music is not a reliable source of flow for me. Sometimes I have nothing to create. In those times, I find myself turning to consumption instead. I’m not talking about the old-timey disease; I mean that consumerist mentality that leads you to goals like “watch all the Netflix” or “eat all the junk food”. With such ideas as my guides, I careen toward useless, non-productive squalor and hedonism. Not that I’m not a fan of hedonism. I just think it would ideally involve a lot more expression and a lot less futility.
So, as this time is upon me, I hunger not only for my favorite junk food (cotton candy), but also for a way out. How can I break this cycle and become a meaningful, active songwriter again? Well, I try to do the things I know will always help me with every problem: I meditate, and take mindful breaths throughout the day, and make sure I always express my needs and emotions. The problem with this method is that I’m terrible at all of those things. Maybe what will help is that eventual breaking point, where I’ve been so fruitless for so long that it begins to eat away at my sense of self-worth until I have no choice but to express the pain through art. (Mind you, that’s several steps after expressing the pain through eating chocolate or expressing the pain through sleeping too much.) I suppose the only real solution is to develop those healthy habits I mentioned, but I was really hoping for an easy way out. (Eating chocolate, for instance, is very easy). Or maybe simply finding it in my awareness to accept my lack of inspiration will help me to dissolve some paradoxical block. Sometimes the only thing keeping you from doing something you love is the fear that you might not do it.
Being unemployed can be really stressful. So can being unhappily employed. Feeling stuck in a career that doesn't seem to suit you is one of the top causes of dissatisfaction with one's life. (I think I read that somewhere.) Well, guess what? We're all there at some point. I'm there now. Odds are you're probably there now, too. But there's no reason to feel stuck when it's nearly impossible for that to be true. You always have a choice. In the ideal situation, you can just leave your current path and hop on the one best suited for you. Even when that isn't a good option for you, though, there's still a way out…or should I say a way in?
Turning inward, when we are unable or unwilling to change our external situation, we always have the option to change what's inside. My favorite explanation of this I've heard to date is from Tolle's A New Earth, where he provides not only his perspective on this truth but also a beautiful categorical system:
Basically, when everything is just totally perfect, whether that means our life's circumstances are perfect or our state of consciousness is perfect (so it doesn't matter what's happening around us), we're going to feel pretty darn happy. Specifically, when we're in a perfect state of consciousness, that feeling is so deep and pure and immutable that it becomes something on-the-whole different from and more valuable than mere happiness. Tollé refers to that state as the joy of being.
If that joy grows and becomes injected with a sense of purpose, as in the case of those who have found a career that suits them to a T, it turns into something else altogether. Enthusiasm imbues a sense of intensity into goal-directed action; it's an entire plan being put in motion or a problem being solved and, what's more, it's absolutely elating.
Failing an easily-enjoyable situation and a deep sense of enlightened being, we are often unable to either enjoy or enthuse our daily lives. In this situation—one in which I've been finding myself frequently in my latest professional endeavors—we are left with one good option: acceptance. If we can only accept what is, and slough our dissatisfaction, we can still find a sense of goodness and belonging from within.
The lesson is this: when we find ourselves unsure about the right next step, or in a situation which doesn't fulfill us, we should accept it anyway. This way, we can still be at peace and—bonus points!—it's a great addition to our existing spiritual practice. It's also possibly the best way to begin a spiritual practice. Applied to my current life, this lesson means stop stressing about jobs and remember to appreciate living. It's really quite basic…and vital.
So, lately I’ve been a bit stuck on the topic of wanting. I’ve gone over this before in detail, so I’ll just quickly recapitulate. Whenever I notice in myself a desire for something other than what is, I try to let that go. The basic idea is that, if I’m wanting something else, I’m not truly appreciating whatever is really happening. If every time I’m at work I’m just wishing to be at home, then of course my workplace is not going to be an exciting or satisfying place to be. So, why not just stop wanting?
For me, the rub with this is, basically, in the context of relationships. I can find contentment in my personal life just fine, and never be wanting for anything, and it rarely becomes a problem for me. However, in relationships, we’ve been taught that desire is key. So, to make it simple, what I want to know is this: how do you create sexual desire without egoic wanting? I'd like to find that depth of connection we think of as romantic love, and establish that associated trust and joy, all while avoiding dissatisfaction at the spiritual level. Let’s check with the experts.
Tolle tells us in A New Earth that the ego can offer us only three states within a relationship. The first is wanting, which we already know is less than ideal. Alternatively, by refusing our egos the objects of their desire, we can induce thwarted wanting, which leads to resentment and anger. Our final choice is to not discontinue egoic wanting altogether, but at least to not want anything from our partner. This, while it sounds promising at first, leads to indifference in the relationship, as we find ourselves chasing satisfaction elsewhere. How then, I wonder, do we justify sexual desire when Tolle defines wanting as egoic and ego as incompatible with sex?
In contrast, Osho's views on sexual desire define it as totally compatible with egolessness. In fact, he touts a shift in our attitudes toward sex as a strong tool in the quest for egolessness (From Sex to Superconsciousness). But Osho also believes in meditation as a replacement for current standards in sex education; so the drive for egolessness can itself inform our perspectives on intimacy.
Indeed, Osho propounds further that mankind’s first glimpse of samadhi—the final stage of meditation in Hindi yoga, in which union with the divine is reached—likely occurred during sex. He postulates that the mind is freed of all thoughts, including wanting, during the depths of intimacy, and that this leaves only our pure selves, one with the divine, and inspires joy and egolessness.
Based on Osho’s interpretation, it seems that the desire experienced in intimacy that is not connected to ego must be that same desire that propels us down the path of enlightenment. If we are left empty of ego during intimate moments, then our spiritual impulse to seek egolessness may lead us to these moments. We do not need egoic wanting to draw us there. We do not need to crave intimacy with our minds and our bodies because our souls will seek it out effortlessly.
We certainly can appreciate this interpretation, insofar as it may remove the burden of ego from our relationships. If we find truth in it, then we will have no reason to fear a lonely moment, as we can trust our very nature to attract affection in its many varied forms.
Don Miguel Ruiz paints a rather clean and well-organized picture of enlightenment and the spiritual state of the world. In a nutshell, his four agreements provide an escape from "the dream of the planet” by offering us an alternative to the endless agreements we already—and perhaps unknowingly—maintain. His methods involve the sacrifice of our current agreements to make room for the titular four.
The above puddle of seeming mumbo-jumbo can be significantly clarified by explaining how Ruiz uses the word “agreement”. You may imagine a sort of amalgam of a belief, a promise, and an expectation, and that would bring you about as close as can be achieved in one short sentence. More specifically, we form an agreement when we concede to a belief, a rule, or a virtue. Whenever we see a word on a page, Ruiz explains, we tap into the agreement that is that word’s meaning to us; we agree that the symbols we see refer to the concepts we were told they symbolize. We refer to agreements when we feel shame for an action we have been taught is wrong. Perhaps the most deeply rooted agreements are the ones concerning our own identities; I agree that I am me and all that this word entails, be it my age, gender, perceived strengths, or sense of individuality, including an unquestioned separateness from others. These agreements I have made with myself form what I think of as my personality
Every time we make an agreement, we expend some of our personal power to maintain it, analogous to the formation of a covalent bond in chemical reactions. Ruiz insists that only if we break these agreements—particularly those based on fear, which are especially exhausting—can we begin to change the patterns of our lives and regain our natural power. But how do we break these long-held and multitudinous agreements? According to Ruiz, we must make four new agreements:
1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
The first agreement states that we must not go against ourselves. It goes beyond the implied honesty of communication with others, requiring that we do not harm ourselves with our thoughts or actions toward ourselves as well as others. When we use our freedom of will to create hate, we are sign against ourselves. That means no critical thoughts about your appearance and no harsh evaluations of another person’s worth.
2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
The next agreement seems built to work in tandem with the first. If someone tries to use their word to hurt you, be it with an insult or through the creation of doubt or fears regarding your life, the second agreement urges us not to take this to heart. Even the immutable circumstances of your life can hurt you if taken personally, so keep this agreement in mind always.
3. Don’t Make Assumptions
We can augment the first agreement by avoiding assumptions. When we look for clarification and ask questions, we can easily avoid the potential suffering and uncertainty that comes with taking blind leaps. We needn’t make it harder to enact the second agreement by surmising a personal attack where none may be.
4. Always Do Your Best
Ultimately, the only way to create a habit of the first three is by use of the final agreement. By expecting ourselves to perform as well as we are capable of performing, and no more, we will not go against ourselves when we fail. We don’t have to take it personally when we cannot achieve some goal. But we do need to push ourselves to reach our peak, because making these new agreements with ourselves is not effortless, so we mustn’t expect ourselves to do any less than our best, either.
By utilizing these four agreements, it is Ruiz’s belief that we may discover true freedom and happiness. I definitely recommend a deeper delving into each of the four, as well as Ruiz’s relevant theories of enlightenment, as found in The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book.
The people of today’s society may claim to be fatalistic, but only when it suits their ends. Fate has come to be used, much like religion, science, or morality in general, as a tool by both the well-meaning and the ill-intentioned. We may say that a certain outcome is simply “fate” when we do not wish to take responsibility for the consequences of our decisions. We may, however, claim a good result to be the product of our accomplishments, ignoring fate when it so suits us. We may, still, claim that something was “mere chance” if we do not know whether to pride ourselves or discredit ourselves; this is our safe middle-ground. In every case, though, we have denied ourselves the consistency of beliefs.
Overall, what we really do when we flip-flop between blaming fate and crediting our own efforts is deprive ourselves of the consistency that originally gave the concept of fate its power. If we remain steadfast in our belief or dismissal of fate, then we force ourselves to heed our own senses, accepting both the good and the bad or honoring neither. When we blame ourselves for our wrongdoings, we also commend ourselves in our acts of altruism and benevolence; ignoring fate, we are forced to acknowledge our own behaviors and their consequences, and are thereby persuaded to effect, through more positive actions, more positive results.
It is my strong belief that we should not play it safe, so to speak, by removing ourselves from the effects we have on others and on ourselves. If we own up to the end results of our decisions, saving claims of “fate” for only those circumstances in which our minds can see no clear causes whatsoever, then we make ourselves not only vulnerable to our own failures but open to our own successes. We must drop the pretense of chance, accept the inevitability of our own right to choose, and let that right empower us to influence our society for the better.
I realize that I haven't written anything in a few months, and I want to take the opportunity to write about why I haven't been writing.
Basically, I find myself inspired to write only when I am in a place of peace and awareness, a state in which any turmoil in my life or my thoughts dissolves and becomes unimportant. This is a state that my girlfriend and I refer to as Centrespace. To us (or, to me, at least), this means a loss of ego, attachment, or identification with the superficial world. When I am in Centrespace, my only priority is enlightened doing, being, and loving. When I am in Centrespace, I do not worry and I have no fear. Any fears that live in my awareness I do not regard as myself, only as fear. Any potentially stressful or painful situation is simply what is, and I do not feel the irrational need to label it or resist it.
For the past few weeks, I haven't often found myself in Centrespace, but have been reactive or fearful or even just identifying with form (as opposed to spirit). The few times I have fallen squarely into my peaceful place I have spent writing new music or connecting with those close to me. Today, however, I find myself centered and alone, and thus in the perfect moment to write. Whenever I try to write while identified with form or fear, I can only write from my thoughts, not from my soul, and that kind of writing, I have found, can do no good.
The best musicians that I know seem to have this way of writing music and lyrics that don’t quite seem to match up. While you’re rocking out to their catchy, upbeat style, you begin to pay attention to what they’re saying . . . and it doesn’t quite fit your expectations. This whole time you assumed this was some party song about love or success or money or something else (mock-)superficial, but they’re belting their stories of heartbreak or misery. How does that make sense?
But that’s exactly why they’re the best musicians that I know. Not simply because they defy expectations, which is often a mere parlor trick, but because within this apparent contradiction lies a strong and misunderstood truth: all of life is beautiful. Every story, whether one of breaking or one of healing, is a source of joy. Even life’s darkest moments—depression, fear, loss—are a reason for celebration! And these songwriters understand that. They know that, while they could write hundreds of sad, slow songs about their wounded souls, it is far more powerful to weave something stable through this seemingly painful tale. Their stories are bolstered both in effect and in validity by the indescribably stabilizing honesty of trust. They trust in the workings of the world, and they know that the good, the bad, and the in-between are all just pieces of life, a life that they cherish and honor. This type of songwriting is an homage to the oneness of being. These musicians respect themselves, us, and reality itself. They realize that it is far safer to have faith than to cling to fear or regret.
This ties nicely into the idea of non-judgement, which is basically just a refusal to label your life's events. When something happens in your life, it's a strong habit to interpret it as a "bad" thing or a "good" thing. While this is certainly a pervasive convention, it can actually be rather self-destructive! For instance, when we experience something "bad", we may find this a very good excuse to feel "bad". Okay, so we just avoid the "bad" stuff and try only to encounter "good" stuff, right? Well, there's a problem there, too. Namely, when something "good" happens to us, it invariably comes with a price: it's always temporary. And, because we're aware of this, even the most perfect moment can be tinged with fear—the fear of the comparatively "bad" stuff that is inevitably to come.
There is hope, though, for relief from this imbalance. It's in those paradoxical songs. It's in those brief moments when you simply forget to think or decide or label. It's in every spiritual teaching and every philosophical tome. It's the act (or, perhaps, the non-act) of non-judgement. All you have to do is refrain from calling the thing "bad" or "good", and then it is just a thing. Just stuff. Just whatever it is and you don't have to feel anything about it or react to it or deal with it. Instead, you can revel in the deep peace that lies within you regardless of the circumstance. You can belt it out at the top of your lungs, even if the words may seem sad to a judging listener. And you can sing it with joy.
You know all that stuff that finding true love is supposed to do for you? Well, it turns out you can have all of that without waiting for that magical chance encounter; all it takes is some introspection, self-discovery, and good old-fashioned hard work. It may not be as simple as that typical fairytale love that brings you deep inner peace, quells all your fears, and dislodges all your dysfunctions in one fell swoop, but it's something you can choose to work toward without the need for all that dumb luck.
Sure, we can sit around and suffer, waiting for our mythical Prince Charming to fix all our problems by seeing right through to our very souls. And we can hope that, when that day comes, we'll recognize the opportunity and somehow magically drop our walls to let him all the way in. Maybe that will be our fate, and maybe it will happen soon. Or maybe we can be a bit more proactive and chase that moment ourselves! We have so many tools at our disposal that don't require waiting and hoping. Some of us turn to religion, some to spirituality, some to the self-help section of our favorite online bookstore. Some of us talk it out with friends or therapists, and some of us practice tai chi and meditate everyday. Whatever our weapon of choice, we are entirely empowered to find that feeling now and build on it every moment of our lives. We don't need to find our missing piece to be whole; we can find a totality within us, if we're only willing and wanting to surrender everything else we thought we were.
At least, that must be the sort of idiotic thing I’ve been believing so far. Yikes. No wonder I never want to get truly close to anyone. It’s either lug around this baggage or find someone who can clean out and replace it all with their own love before I’ve noticed and run away. Unluckily for all, I’m pretty damn good at this whole self-awareness thing, despite what my current revelation may imply, and very few people are capable of distracting me from myself. Sorry, but I’m just too damn fascinating and you’re usually trying too hard or not at all. I mean, it’s pretty hard to forget about the massive yoke of so many former amadors, even in the face of a prospective or two.
Of course, after reading what I’ve just written, I get a pretty heavy dose of 60mg Wake-Up-Call PM as I once again notice how absurdly self-centered and singular (and arrogant and cute and pretentious and elegant and conceited and effectual and big-headed and big-headed…) I am. So, maybe I’m trying too hard, myself. Maybe I should let them go because, really, when will I ever find myself even speaking to any of my ex-whatever’s again, let alone needing to quickly take up all my former feelings and spring into battle with them? Even on the incredibly off-chance that I see his face in person again, I’d much rather be confused for a while, to not know how to feel, to be able to forget who he was and find out who he is now. Things change. People change. Hearts should change, too. And I should quit loading myself higher and thicker and wider and deeper (and other totally inappropriate-sounding dimensions) with all this nostalgic affect and just leave my backpack behind. If I can’t fit it all in my pockets, then I wasn’t meant to have it all.